Saturday, 31 December 2022

Birding highlights in Cornwall 2022 by month

The following is an overview of the best and most significant finds in Cornwall in 2022. Those wishing to read more detail can drill down in this blog and find the monthly update. Many thanks to the photographers (detailed at the end), WhattsApp groups and CBWPS recent reports pages for the information.

 January 2022 started mild with fairly settled weather with a north-east to easterly airflow.  End of the month was clear and colder, though temperatures never dropped below zero.

The mini influx of Tundra Bean Geese continued over from December.  The three birds at the Lizard were present on the 1st but a New Year's Day shooting party spooked them.  Presumably the same three relocated to Upper Tamar Lake and were on show to the month-end.  Two more left Walmsley Sanctuary at first light mid month. An impressive flock of 16 Russian White-fronted Geese spent a few days in the field opposite Croft Pascoe.

The White-tailed Eagle from the Isle of Wight introduction scheme continued to be seen in the Colliford area, eventually hitting the local BBC news. The new breed of photo-birder was soon accused of photo-baiting the bird for a closer pic and news since was suppressed.

A first winter male Surf Scoter and Velvet Scoter were found at Pentewan on the 24thJan.

 February weather started with a steady west to north airflow, occasional strong wind and heavy rain.  Mid month saw Storm Dudley hit the northern Isles but had little effect on Cornwall.  The 18th and 20th saw two exceptionally strong westerly storms hit Cornwall, Eunice and Frederick.

The first rarity of the month was found at Porthgwarra on the 9th Feb.  An American Golden Plover was photo'd on the moor adjacent to the NCI station. Sadly it didn't stay long.

The undoubted highlight was a stunning adult Kumlien's Gull in Newlyn habour, no doubt a by product of Storm Dudley.  It remained faithful to Newlyn until the month-end.

Ad Kumlien's Gull, Newlyn harbour, Feb 2022 (pic by S Rogers).

 March weather started mild and wet with a light south west airflow. Mid month changed to a constant easterly air flow with long periods of warm sunshine.

Sensational news broke on the 2nd March when an adult Brown Booby was found by a non-birder at the Droskyn car park, Perranporth.  It was actually found during storm Eunice with a suggested date of the 22nd Feb.  News that it died in care at Mousehole bird hospital was released on 2nd March. This bird is just the third record for Cornwall after two were seen in August and September 2019.

A decent movement of Barnacle Geese was found on the 6th with two at Ryan's Field and 26 at St Gothian's.  Barnacle Goose is classed as a "rare vagrant" in Cornwall so 26 together is a significant record.

 April started cold with an easterly airflow and overnight minus temperatures. A fresh south easterly front from the 10th opened the gates and pushed the common passage migrants in to the county. The wind direction for the entire end of month was easterly based.

Spring migration finally took off on the 11th.  The first Woodchat Shrike of the year was found at Windmill Farm, Lizard. Passage migrants were seen in low numbers across the county with Yellow Wagtail and Little Ringed Plover at Chapel Amble, Common Redstart, Ring Ouzel at Botallack, Osprey, Hoopoe and Little Ringed Plover there next morning.  

The first decent set of rarities turned up on easterly winds on the 21st.  Boscregan and St Just were the hotspots.  A Short-toed Lark was found at Boscregan in ploughed fields with a Hoopoe at nearby Hendra.  A Red-rumped Swallow was found at Porthgwarra, and two together were seen next day on the Lizard.  Among the many Red Kites dotted around, a Black Kite was found at Portreath.  Yet another Hoopoe was found at Pendeen.

Short-toed Lark, Boscregan, April 2022, pic courtesy Nigel Rogers.

The 23rd continued with notable rares in the county. The First European Bee-Eater of the season was seen over Nanjizal. The wandering Black Kite was seen at nearby Hendra and a stunning male Channel Wagtail was photographed at Roskestal.

The 25th was a day noted for some serious plastic. A Great Horned Owl was found roosting in a pine tree in Kenidjack valley.  Whilst no individual or organisation has claimed ownership, the likelihood of it being a genuine vagrant is stretching the imagination. The literature states that the species is generally resident with limited dispersal post breeding in its native Canada and N America. There has been some expansion in its range though.  It was gone next morning.  The White-tailed Eagle from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme was seen over Dobwalls, presumably heading back east to its cage. 

In summary, there were worryingly low numbers of common migrants, even after the strong easterly winds which traditionally bring migrants to Cornwall. Conversely, there were high numbers of (approx 20) Hoopoe, Ring Ouzel, four Woodchats, five Red-rumped Swallows, an unusual Spring record of Short-toed Lark.

May weather started with a light westerly breeze, generally cool. A light south easterly wind on the 8th changed course to south or south-west mid month and was dull and surprisingly cold. The month end finally saw long periods of sunshine and an easterly airflow.

The popular Montagu's Harrier at Trewey continued to show well on the 9th and 10th. A Red Kite and Black Kite flew east directly above the harrier on the 10th. 

Montagu's Harrier 3CY / Adult, Trewey Common, May 2022, picture courtesy Alan James.

Arguably one of the most important finds of the season was a singing male Wood Warbler on territory on Bodmin Moor. The last proven breeding in Cornwall was in 2000.

Undoubtedly the best weekend of the Spring came on 20th/21st/22nd. The wind shifted to south east and with extreme heat in Spain, some decent rarities were found.  Another Golden Oriole was singing and sound recorded at Lamorna. A Bee-eater and Red-rumped Swallow (8th this Spring) were in the Land's End and Polgigga area on Saturday 21st, though neither lingered. The following day, the 6th Woodchat was found near Ardensawah. A Quail was photographed, unusually out in the open at Porthgwarra. A sub adult Egyptian Vulture was seen over Devoran on the 22nd.

On the 23rd, sensational news was announced when an adult male European Roller was found in the unlikely location of Clowance Estate.

Image courtesy Alan James


Finally, a belated April Fool's joke on the 31st came from the Lizard when a Long-legged Buzzard was claimed. "No plumage details were noted as it was very flighty".

June weather started warm and settled with an easterly airflow. 

The First rarity of the month was a female Rustic Bunting at Nanjizal on the 3rd. Two Rosy Starlings together at the Lizard and a Common Nightingale at nearby Kynance.

A male Red-footed Falcon was seen over Trevellas, St Agnes on the 8th, perhaps the same bird reported on the 5th? 

Cornwall's seventh Pacific Golden Plover was found at Stithians Reservoir on the 15th. It was present next day and delighted a good number of visitors.  It looked settled late in the evening of the 16th but departed overnight and wasn't seen again. FULL REPORT here 


July: The star bird of the month was found on the 27th. An adult Least Sandpiper was eventually identified at Drift Reservoir.  Initially considered to be a Temminck's Stint, photos soon appeared online and its true identity confirmed. This is a superb find and represents just the 9th Cornwall record.  The last record was in 2006 when a long stayer juv. commuted between Hayle and Copperhouse.

Least Sandpiper, Drift Res, (picture by Joe Jones).


The month ended with a Wilson's Petrel at Pendeen on the 30th, two Cory's Shearwaters and a single Great Shearwater here on the 31st.  At Porthgwarra, 105 Cory's were logged with another 370 on the 24th July, heralding the start of an unprecedented seawatching season.

August weather started typically warm and humid with a westerly airflow.  Mid month was exceptionally hot.

A long overdue Caspian Tern was seen flying past the Lizard point on the 3rd and a Wilson's Petrel was found in relatively calm conditions off Pendeen.

Bird of the month candidate for the lucky few was a stunning Aquatic Warbler trapped in the nets at Nanjizal on the 15th.  A First year Paddyfield Warbler was also trapped at Nanjizal.
1CY Aquatic Warbler, 6th for Nanjizal, picture courtesy Reuben Veal.

The wind shifted to North and up to 30mph on the 17th. Two Wilson's Petrels was seen with 89 Euro Stormies off Pendeen, plus another Sabine's Gull.

Events changed for the better on the 18th.  The south coast was the place to be. Sea temperature graphics for the period showed a warmer belt of water stretching from West Africa to the south west approaches. Predictably a Desertas/Fea's type Petrel was seen off Porthgwarra, and it or another was seen later in the afternoon here.  If that wasn't enough, two Wilson's Petrels were seen.  The start of a decent passage of large shear's included 26 Cory's and 50 Greats.  Lizard Point scored with four Great Shearwaters.

Adult Wilson's Petrel, Falmouth Bay, Picture by Jon Irvine.

A Wilson's Petrel lingered off Porthgwarra on the 19th and 20th, whilst four more Wilson's were seen well and photographed from the AK pelagic out of Falmouth. The Desertas/Fea's Petrel was seen again on the 20th late afternoon, prompting a large twitch the following day.  Those assembled early enough were treated to close views of the Pterodroma. More memorable was the tussle with an Arctic Skua for a couple minutes.  Six Wilson's Petrels, 389 Great Shearwaters, 156 Balearics and 46 Sooty Shearwater completed a stunning day.  At least ten Wilson's Petrel were counted off Southerly Point, Lizard, but interestingly, less than a handful of large Shears were seen. Finally, a single Wilson's was seen off Pendeen, completing a record haul of at least 17 birds from mainland Cornwall.


Desertas /Fea's type Petrel, Pothgwarra, Aug 2022, picture by Nigel Rogers.

September weather started with strong southerly wind associated with monsoon-like conditions. Mid month was dominated by an easterly airflow.  The month ended with strong north-westerlies and heavy rain.

Waders took a leading role on the 1st with at least six Pectoral Sandpipers in the county including four at Siblyback Res. A brief Temminck's Stint at Drift was belatedly identified from photo's but could not be refound. Curlew Sandpipers were found at the normal wader hotspots indicating a good breeding season. All but one were first year birds.

Cornwall's 11th Blyth's Reed Warbler appeared in the famous Nanjizal nets on the 2nd. This site is the only location for all eleven records to date and now competes head on with Fair Isle and North Ronaldsay for this species.  Quite an astonishing feat in itself. A Melodious Warbler was also keeping company with the Blyth's.  (All previous Blyth's Reed records HERE ).

A Greenish Warbler was found next day at Nanjizal though it avoided the nets. Nevertheless, it was the first record for the patch and just the 10th for Cornwall. (Previous Cornwall records HERE).  Staying with rare passerines, a first year Citrine Wagtail was found at Walmsley sanctuary on the 3rd. This is Cornwall's 21st record.

First winter Blyth's Reed Warbler, Nanjizal, picture K Wilson.


First winter Citrine Wagtail, Walmsley, picture courtesy Adrian Langdon.

An incredible seawatch from the Lizard Point on the 3rd will remain in the memory bank for years to come. An astonishing 652 Great Shearwaters, 65 Balearic, 36 Sooty, 12 Cory's, an adult Sabine's Gull and two Wilson's Petrels were logged.  The cream on the cake though arrived two days later. A Band-rumped Petrel (previously Madeiran Petrel) was seen inside the Manxie line, just beyond the reef at Lizard Point. If accepted by the authorities, this will be just the 4th for Cornwall. A Long-tailed Skua was also logged on the 5th.  A second Madeiran Petrel was seen off Killigerran Head at midday on the 5th. The timings cancel out any thought of duplication.

Cornwall's second Blyth's Reed Warbler of the year was found at a private site at the Lizard (7th). This is potentially the 12th county record and first away from Nanjizal.

The third Blyth's Reed Warbler of the year was claimed on the 14th at Windmill Farm. A Red-necked Phalarope was found feeding on the mud at low tide on Carnsew Pool.

The second Greenish Warbler of the year was found at St. Levan.

A stunning Ring Ouzel showing characteristics of the alpestris race was found at Kenidjack. A Red-breasted Flycatcher was found at the Penryn Uni campus, most likely arriving on the same weather system as the ouzel.

Ring Ouzel, Kenidjack, Sep 2022, picture courtesy Nigel Rogers.

The 
second Red-necked Phalarope of the year was found at Lizard point, spending two days there, delighting Cornish listers needing this rare phalarope.

October weather started with a westerly airflow, mainly influenced by hurricane Fiona hitting the Northern Isles. The month ended mild and wet with south to south-west wind dominating.

The month kicked off with the Lizard Point Red-necked Phalarope, remaining from September 30th to October 1st. This local "mega" rarity delighted many of the newer resident birders.  To put this species in perspective, the last "twitchable" record was 1993 when a juvenile settled on Perranporth boating lake.

Red-necked Phalarope, Lizard, pic courtesy Steve Rowe.

Cornwall's 31st Long-billed Dowitcher was found at Hayle Estuary on the 2nd. 2011 was the last year when two were present in the county (at Stithians and Davidstow). Hayle estuary is the top site for Long-billed Dowitcher, hosting eight individuals. The last bird at Hayle was in July 2007 when a stunning adult was present for four days.

Long-billed Dowitcher, juv, Hayle Est. Pic courtesy Pete Walsh.


Long-billed Dowitcher, juv, Hayle, pic courtesy Michael Spicer.

A Blackpoll Warbler was seen at Nanjizal on the 2nd and possibly heard on the 30th. 

The second Woodchat of the season was found at Pendeen, in the valley opposite the coastguard houses. This is the first record for Pendeen and joins a celebrity shrike line-up here.  Pendeen easily matches Porthgwarra for rare shrikes. With the increased observer coverage, this trend looks promising.

Woodchat, juv Pendeen, picture courtesy John St.Ledger

Seawatchers were rewarded on the 5th with the highlights being a Sabine's Gull and three Leach's Petrels at Pendeen and two Long-tailed Skuas at the Lizard. The latter site has a growing reputation for Long-tailed Skua and is one of the more reliable sites in the county for this species.

Two juv Lesser Yellowlegs were found at Copperhouse Creek on the 7th. These are approximately the 51st and 52nd records for Cornwall and the first "flock". The species is almost an annual vagrant in Cornwall. 2020 was a blank year and the 2018 wintering Bird at Devoran remained until 25th April 2019.

Lesser Yellowlegs, Copperhouse, picture courtesy Alex McKechnie


A Black Kite was seen in the Polgigga area on the 8th. A closer inspection of photographs showed a transmitter aerial on its back and leg rings indicating an escaped bird from Wild Zoological Park in Halfpenny Green. A flyover Serin was at nearby Porthgwarra. Yellow-browed Warblers continued to be found with one at Sennen quarry and three at Nanjizal.

The Woodchat Shrike at Pendeen moved from its original spot by the coastguard houses. From the 8th, it could be found a few hundred yards east towards Portherras beach. This additional feeding area is some way from the coastguard houses but a check of available photos shows the bird to be the same individual.

Woodchat video by John Chapple.

The 13th was a busy day with no less than eight Yellow-browed Warblers across the county and a calling Pallass' Warbler at Long Rock pool. An American Golden Plover was found at Crowdy and a Richard's Pipit at Park Head. A juv. Rosy Starling was found at Mullion.

The first twitchable Nearctic passerine of the year appeared on the 15th. Cornwall's 34th Red-eyed Vireo was found at Tregeseal in the wooded area by the bridge. 

Red-eyed Vireo, Tregeseal, picture courtesy Bob Bosisto.

Never say the seawatching season is over in October.  A Fea's / Desertas Petrel was photographed from the Scillonian on the "Cornish side" on the 17th. At least 12 Puffins were also seen on the crossing on the 14th.  All of them were adults showing some red in the bill.

The 22nd October set a new record for Great Shearwater numbers. A massive 10,235 were counted moving past The Lizard in the afternoon, 868 past Porthgwarra and a further 2500+ off Pennance Point, Falmouth. In addition, rare seabirds with a southerly origin including Cornwall's fourth Band-rumped Petrel of the season off Porthgwarra (15:50), and remarkably another bird off the Lizard (17:00), a Barolo Shearwater from Bass Point, Lizard and a juv Long-tailed Skua from Porthgwarra capped a stunning day. With the Fea's /Desertas already mentioned on the 17th, clearly with changes in sea temperature, we can only expect more rare seabirds.

www.worldseatemperature.com image showing warm sea extending to SW Approaches.

The wind shifted from South to WSW on Monday 23rd. Pendeen recorded a juv Sabine's Gull, seven Grey Phalarope, juv Long-tailed Skua and 117 Great Shearwater, (the highest count of Great Shearwater here this year).

The first Hawfinch of the season was found at Polwheveral, Constantine and a Siberian Stonechat at Bochym, Lizard on the 23rd.  One Lesser Yellowlegs continued to entertain the paperazzi-birders at Copperhouse.

Cornwall's 18th Siberian Stonechat was found at Bochym, Lizard on the 24th. A sample was collected and will be sent off for DNA analysis, hopefully designating either Maura or Stejneger's.



Siberian Stonechat, Bochum, Lizard, pics courtesy Michael Spicer.

The final throes of the seawatching season came on the 28th and 29th.  A second calendar year "blonde" Long-tailed Skua was video'd off Pendeen.  A stunning pale looking individual caused some initial  headaches, mainly surrounding the pale underwing.  However, the video showed several key features which point to Long-tailed Skua, including small size, narrow wings, long caudal area, grey-brown tones, pale rump, and a distinctive meandering flight path.

Meanwhile at Porhgwarra, the astonishing Great Shearwater influx continued with a 90 minute passage of 597 birds. In addition, a close adult male Pomarine Skua showed off its spectacular tail extensions.  Leach's Petrel's were seen off Sandy Cove and next day at Porthgwarra.

November weather started with strong South to South-West winds and heavy rain. The month ended pretty much the same with heavy rain from the west.

The third Pallass' Warbler of the Autumn was found along Lloyds Lane, Lizard on the 1st, following one at Long Rock and another at Kennack Sands on 31st October.

Leach's Petrels were on the move on the 2nd. Seven were counted off Pendeen, three off Mousehole with one showing a dark rump. Two more Leach's at Downderry, two at Hannafore, one at St. Agnes, three at Cadgwith completed the best day of the year for this species.  Another Band-rumped Petrel was claimed off the Lizard and possibly the same dark rumped Leach's type also off the Lizard Point. 

A Radde's Warbler was photo'd in a St. Just garden on the 4th. The finder must have had quite a shock while viewing the bird feeder!  Not to be outdone, a Dusky Warbler was found in the Nanjizal nets on the 5th.

Dusky Warbler, Nanjizal, pic courtesy John Overfield.



A presumed returning Ring-necked Duck appeared at Dozmary Pool.  This deep water pool is the favourite site for this species.  Last winter, at least ten birds were present here, a UK record.

More significant numbers of Great Shearwater appeared on the 6th with two sizable counts. Porthgwarra recorded 363 and another 292 from the Lizard. The latter site also notched up two Leach's Petrels and a Little Auk. The seawatching season just keeps giving! More strong southerly winds on the 7th Nov pushed nine Leach's Petrels, one very late Storm Petrel, 71 Great Shearwater and 27 Sooty Shearwater towards Porthgwarra.  Meanwhile, the Lizard notched up 483 Great Shears and a duplicate 27 Sooty's. 144 Manx was a high late season count and a juv Kumliens Gull was a surprise.  An exhausted Long-tailed Skua was photo'd in care at Newquay Airport on the 8th.  A late juv Sabine's Gull and yet another juv Long-tailed Skua were seen from Pendeen on the 9th. What a great year this species has had.

Cornwall's seventh Hume's Warbler was claimed with a Yellow-browed Warbler at Swanvale on the 9th.  The last Hume's Warbler in the county was 2007 when one was video'd, sound recorded and eventually trapped in Cot Valley.

The Pallass' Warbler at Lloyds Lane, Lizard was still present on the 12th. 

A juv Pallid Harrier was found in the Trevilley and Nanjizal area on the 14th. On a couple occasions it was flushed from the nets area. This species has become more regular in the county though the last officially accepted record was 2009.  Clearly there are unsubmitted Cornish records.  Its status reflects the increase across western Europe and the UK. A Short-toed Lark was found nearby in the stubble fields around Trevilley.


Pallid Harrier, Nanjizal, Nov 2022. Pics courtesy John Miller.

Cornwall's first Black-faced Bunting was found in the Nanjizal nets on the 19th. The juv female was trapped, ringed and later released in nearby stubble fields. By pure chance, the Pallid Harrier appearance created a Saturday morning twitch and the assembled birders were treated to the bunting release. The irony is that the harrier failed to show... The 19th was indeed a special day as a female Desert Wheatear was found at Falmouth.  Sadly it didn't stay long. This is Cornwall's 11th record following a male at Penberth in November 2020. A late Red-backed Shrike was found at Chapel Porth.

Juv female Black-faced Bunting, Picture courtesy Mike McKee

Black-faced Bunting, Nanjizal, pic courtesy Bob Bosisto

The wind turned westerly on the 18th, strong at times. The following three days were particularly noteworthy for late skuas, petrels and Little Gull.  Pendeen was the place to be.  On the 18th, 22 Little Gull passed the famous watchpoint, one of the highest totals in years. In addition, one Little Auk and a rare Blue Phase Fulmar and five Grey Phalaropes were seen.  On the 20th, a juv Long-tailed Skua, four Pomarine Skua, two Great Skua and three Arctic Skua, Leach's Petrel, two Little Gull, 3 Grey Phalarope, three Great Shearwater, 11 Sooty Shearwater and good selection of mixed divers were seen in bitter conditions.  25 Great Shearwater were seen off the Lizard on the 26th, continuing the amazing season this species is having.

Juv Pomarine Skua, Pendeen, Nov 2022, pic courtesy M Elliott.


Juv Pomarine Skua, Pendeen, Nov 2022, pic courtesy M Elliott.


Ad fem Pomarine Skua, Pendeen, Nov 2022, pic courtesy M Elliott.

Blue Phase Fulmar, Pendeen, Nov 2022, pic courtesy M Elliott.

A Dusky Warbler was found at Nanjizal cove on the 27th Nov, a typical late Autumn date. The Short-toed Lark was still present in the stubble fields nearby at Trevilley.  The returning adult Ring-billed Gull reappeared a Lelant Saltings.

The meteoric rise of the Cattle Egret continued. On the 27th, an incredible 167 were counted at Amble Marsh. This number at a single site is a county record. In addition, a further 85 were at Carne Creek, Gillan and another 21 at Loe Pool, Helston!

Yet another Dusky Warbler (3rd for November) was found in the Nanjizal nets on the 29th. This was in addition to the Nanjizal Cove bird as it was seen independently the same day.  A Little Bunting was also found between Little Hendra and Cot.

December 2022 weather started with high pressure, clear skies and an easterly airflow.  Mid month was bitterly cold, with negative readings across the county. From the 20th, a more westerly airflow brought mild and wet conditions.

The Little Bunting at Little Hendra/Cot was still present on the 1st and seen intermittently to at least the 15th. Winter records for this species are now annual and the stubble fields of far west Cornwall are the place to find them.  A Red-throated Pipit was at Trevilley on the 1st, first found on the 11th Nov.

The unprecedented number of Cattle Egrets in the county continues to grow with another 50 in the heron roost at Malpas, Truro. This number is additional to the 167 at Amble, 85 at Gillan and c.30 at Helston and Loe Pool. With various singletons and smaller parties dotted around the county, its quite possible up to 400 (?) are wintering in the county.

A Dusky Warbler was found in a back garden at Tol Pedn, Polgigga. Thought to be a new arrival, meaning this is the fifth record for Nov and Dec alone.

Just two wintering Spotted Redshanks in the county included singles at Devoran and Saltash. A Common Crane was photographed on the 15th in the Nanjizal area.

A Pacific Diver was found at Gerrans Bay, from Pendower on 17th. Presumably this is the returning adult.  Of note, the Mounts Bay Pacific Diver has presumably succumbed as it hasn't been seen for the last two winters.

An early Christmas present came to one deserving observer on the 24th. A Dusky Warbler was found at Tregilliowe Ponds, St Erth. The site is the same as one found the previous year. Perhaps a returning bird?

A juv. American Herring Gull was found at Drift Res. on the 29th. 

SUMMARY

2022 will be remembered for the stunning adult male Roller at Praze-an-Beeble, the Pallid Harrier at Trevilley, the first Cornwall record of Black-faced Bunting at Nanjizal, the incredible record breaking numbers of Great Shearwaters, three Blyth's Reed Warblers, Paddyfield Warbler and at least two (possibly up to seven) Band-rumped Petrels. THE BIRD OF THE YEAR will probably go to the Roller as it delighted so many birders.

Thanks to the photographers who have agreed to feature their work, including Kester Wilson, Reuben Veal, Joe Jones, John Miller, Alan James, Mike Spicer, Pete Walsh, Martin Elliott, Bob Bosisto, Mike McKee, John Overfield, Alex McKechnie, John St Ledger, Mush Ahmad, Steve Rowe, John Chapple, Adrian Langdon, Jon Irvine, Peter Clement, and myself.

Sunday, 25 December 2022

Birding highlights in Cornwall December 2022

 December 2022 weather started with high pressure, clear skies and an easterly airflow.  Mid month was bitterly cold, with negative readings across the county. From the 20th, a more westerly airflow brought mild and wet conditions.

The Little Bunting at Little Hendra/Cot was still present on the 1st and seen intermittently to at least the 15th. Winter records for this species are now annual and the stubble fields of far west Cornwall are the place to find them.  A Red-throated Pipit was at Trevilley on the 1st, first found on the 11th Nov.

The unprecedented number of Cattle Egrets in the county continues to grow with another 50 in the heron roost at Malpas, Truro. This number is additional to the 167 at Amble, 85 at Gillan and c.30 at Helston and Loe Pool. With various singletons and smaller parties dotted around the county, its quite possible up to 400 (?) are wintering in the county.

A Black Guillemot was photographed from a kayak in Carrick Roads. This bird could be one of the returning Falmouth Bay birds. Presumably the same bird later moved to Swanpool.  Two wintered in the 21/22 winter period off Swanpool, this area being a firm favourite for this species.

A Dusky Warbler was found in a back garden at Tol Pedn, Polgigga. Thought to be a new arrival, meaning this is the fifth record for Nov and Dec alone.

The returning Ring-billed Gull remains loyal to the Lelant station section of Hayle Estuary, following its return at the end of November. A Russian White-fronted Goose spent a few days at the north end of Stithians res. from the 11th.

An immature Velvet Scoter was found in Mounts Bay on the 14th with 50+ Common Scoters. Mounts Bay was once a reliable and regular site for scoters but recently, numbers are very low or non existent.  The same goes for divers and grebes here. Another Velvet Scoter was found at Carrick Roads and a male Velvet was seen off Pendeen mid month.

Wintering divers and grebes in Gerrans Bay started with a Red-necked Grebe from early December. Numbers of divers remain low but should build as the weather becomes colder. 23 Goosander had assembled by mid month at Lower Tamar Lake (technically in Devon but viewable from the Cornish side pathway).

Just two wintering Spotted Redshanks in the county included singles at Devoran and Saltash. An Avocet appeared at Hayle Estuary on the16th. A Common Crane was photographed on the 15th in the Nanjizal area.

A Pacific Diver was found at Gerrans Bay, from Pendower on 17th. Presumably this is the returning adult.  Of note, the Mounts Bay Pacific Diver has presumably succumbed as it hasn't been seen for the last two winters. Two Red-necked Grebes on the Helford confirm this site as one of the most reliable in Cornwall (from 22nd). I can remember visiting the Helford in the 70's to see Red-necked Grebe.

In the east of the county, a Great White Egret was at Polbathic and Avocet numbers increased to 53 at Kingsmill. A Spoonbill was also present here. Four Slavonian Grebes were photographed at Hannafore.

An early Christmas present came to one deserving observer on the 24th. A Dusky Warbler was found at Tregilliowe Ponds, St Erth. The site is the same as one found the previous year. Perhaps a returning bird?  More definitely was a returning adult Caspian Gull found on Hayle Estuary.  This bird is P:T22 and ringed in Poland in 2018, originally seen in the first winter period of 2022.

An Avocet appeared on Truro River on the 23rd, presumably a returning adult and quite possibly the same bird seen at Hayle a few days earlier.  A decent count of 92 Black-tailed Godwit confirms this river as an important wintering site for this species.

Unusual shearwaters post-Christmas were the order of the day. Two Sooty's and a Balearic passed Pendeen on the 26th whilst a Great Shearwater was among the Gannets off Gwithian on the 27th. This is one of the latest ever records for Great Shearwater off Cornwall. The species should be in the South Atlantic at this time of year. An unsubstantiated report of an adult Sabine's Gull at Praa Sands came from Birdguides on the 27th. (There are no previous winter records of Sabine's in Cornwall).

A juv. American Herring Gull was found at Drift Res. on the 29th along with a Caspian Gull. A Goldeneye passed Pendeen on the 28th followed by another Velvet Scoter on the 29th. The latter species seems to have had a productive breeding season with higher than average numbers seen in the county.

Bird of the Month candidates: Common Crane at Nanjizal, influx of Dusky Warblers...

Friday, 2 December 2022

Cornwall seawatching hotspots

This blog post is part of an ongoing series on Cornwall's Seawatching hotspots. Scroll down for Pendeen, Porthgwarra, St Ives Island and The Lizard:

PENDEEN LIGHTHOUSE 

This is my favourite seawatching site. Its not necessarily the best site in Cornwall but it has certain positives unmatched elsewhere. The main advantage at Pendeen is continual dawn to dusk viewing. The position of the sun is always favourable. The lack of glare makes Pendeen the perfect site for a full day's seawatch.

A typical August seawatch from the lighthouse wall (Aug 2009)

Other positives include ease of vehicle access, free parking and short walk to the viewing area. The latter is open to some debate though. There are four viewing areas, each having at least one positive attribute.

The least popular is the lower car park. Its exposed and essentially needs a vehicle to block the side wind. In the summer you are continually interrupted by visitors enquiring what the attraction is. The view is good and favours birding from your vehicle. Ideal if you're doing a quick visit or can't walk far.  Mobile reception is poor. Otherwise, you're better off on the slope or by the lighthouse wall.

The two lower slope positions are the subject of much discussion.  Some swear by the lower slope. Its main advantage is slightly closer views and a greater (longer) field of view. The negatives are the reduced time on a passing seabird, losing a small seabird in deep troughs and connecting with long distance seabirds, especially when well left of the left rock. In strong westerly's, you are more exposed to the elements.  Mobile reception is non-existent.   All of the above though will be argued all day long. It basically comes down to preference.

My favourite position and one that 75% of watchers prefer is below the lighthouse wall, as shown in the image below.  The main benefit is protection from the westerly wind and a solid tripod platform. The view is more distant but the field of view is very wide, at least 180°. There is plenty of time to connect and ample time to study passing seabirds.  There is space for 25+ birders and communication is easy. Mobile reception is reasonable here (3G and three bars) but impossible to connect to birders on the lower slope or the lower car park.

Seawatch enthusiasts, Aug 2008, incl B Richards, J Foster, R Archer, S Rogers, R Wilkins, L Proctor, B Mellow.

THE GEOGRAPHY

Pendeen is positioned on the "corner" of the north west coast of Cornwall. It is the final exit point for migrating seabirds as they head west in to the Atlantic.  There's good reason why Pendeen Lighthouse was built here in 1900. More info on the lighthouse history HERE Pendeen Lighthouse and the viewing areas sit approximately 59m above sea level.

THE WEATHER

The wind direction is critical and just as important, is the preceding wind direction. Pendeen requires anything with West in it. There's nothing scientific in the following statement, but from experience, WSW to W in my opinion is the best direction yielding the best sessions. If the wind direction on the previous day or night is strong SW, then expect some fireworks! 

NW is always worth a look. S through to E is unproductive.

THE BIRDS

Pendeen is excellent for variety of seabirds, terns, skuas, phalaropes, large shearwaters, petrels, waders, auks and gulls. A good seawatch can produce all of the above in a single session. I try to keep an open mind on everything passing. Always expect the unexpected is a good mind-set.

Pendeen is best known for certain species in different months, though anything can occur at any time. 

August is traditionally better for Storm Petrel, Wilson's Petrel, Balearic Shearwater, thousands of Manx, Cory's Shearwater, all terns, Sabine's Gull, non breeding or failed breeding skuas and waders, especially Whimbrel.

September always feels like it should be brilliant. Recent years have failed to deliver a really good, memorable September, mainly because Atlantic weather systems seem to be tracking further north.  As the season progresses, the following can be expected: Sabine's Gull, terns, Grey Phalarope, Storm Petrel, Leach's Petrel, Manx, Balearic, Sooty, Great Shearwaters, skuas, scoter and waders.

October and November favour Leach's Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Great Shearwater, divers, skuas, especially Pomarine and Long-tailed, Kittiwake and auks often in their thousands.  This is a spectacle in its own right.

Pendeen has had its share of mega rarities, though not guaranteed annually.  There are just two records of Fea's Petrel, three Band-rumped Petrel (2007, 2009 and 2020), Red-billed Tropicbird (2015), Black-browed Albatross (2019), Barolo Shearwater (2019), Bridled Tern (2014) and Brown Booby (2019).

PORTHGWARRA (Gwennap Head)

This is my second favourite seawatch site. Despite some incredible rarities regularly seen from this famous site, it has one glaring problem - the position of the sun. Early morning starts are essential here, at least allowing a few hours good birding. By mid-morning the intense glare makes viewing difficult. As the season progresses, the sun rises further south adding to the problem. A dull grey, overcast day is a blessing here. The views can be distant but also with luck, fairly close. A decent 'scope is essential. 

Porthgwarra viewing area, looking SW towards the Runnelstone.

The location has its drawbacks. Its not the easiest road to access, the walk up the coast path with all the gear requires fitness and the privately owned car park charges at least £8 for a full day session. 

Seawatching at Porthgwarra starts properly in July and continues well into September.  August is the optimum month. Indeed, many visiting birders combine a family holiday with a seawatch or two.

Viewing SE is the Pinnacle, an important marker point.

THE GEOGRAPHY

The viewing area is a few hundred meters east of Gwennap Head. Geographically, Gwennap is the final land mass that seabirds will see when departing South West England. Given its closeness to the Approaches, Porthgwarra scores highly against other sites further east. The viewing area is c200ft above sea level and is fairly exposed. There's not a lot of protection from the wind. 

THE WEATHER

Given that the preferred wind direction here is S to SW, it stands to reason that you're facing the wind.  In July and August, a strong southerly gale is always associated with rain. Waterproofs and warm kit are essential, even in August. WSW wind will most likely offer reasonable seawatching, but Pendeen would be better. Thus S to SW is really the only reliable direction.

THE BIRDS

July and August are the best months. Porthgwarra as a premier seawatching site came to prominence in the late1970's. A birder called Harry Robinson (HPKR) started finding Cory's Shearwaters summering off the Runnelstone Buoy area. Others took notice and soon the first Fea's Petrel was found in 1989. The rest is history.

 Porthgwarra is the best site in the UK for seeing Fea's Petrel. Around 20 have been recorded here and August is the optimum month. Recent sea temperature increases seem to be holding birds in the area and point to multiple sightings of the same (?) bird.

Large shearwaters also feature in July and August.  Both Cory's and Great are pretty much guaranteed in the correct conditions. 2022 was a record year for Great with around 14,000 counted in one day between Porthgwarra and Lizard in October. Balearic Shearwater is also guaranteed in numbers.

Storm Petrel can reach three figure counts and recently, Wilson's Petrel has been seen well. No fewer than six were counted in one day in August 2022 (on the same day as a Fea's). Leach's is rare on the South coast and normally appear later in the season. Madeiran Petrel (or Band-rumped Petrel as its now known) is also on the radar. One was seen well here in October 2022. At least another six were claimed in Cornwall in 2022. This species is clearly on the radar and if sea temperatures continue to rise, coupled with strong Southerly gales, we should see more of this species.

All four skuas pass Porthgwarra. Passage starts in May with adult Pomarine Skua. I have seen double figures here in years gone by. Sadly this spectacle seems consigned to memory. In the right conditions, which seems to be S or SE wind, small parties can still be seen here.

Early returning non breeder skuas start moving from July and continue through to September. Skua numbers are always greater though on the north coast.  Terns and Kittiwake also pass by but in far lower numbers compared to Pendeen.

There is a little known Puffin movement in mid March here. Increased observation is required but essentially a SW (?) wind can push large numbers of Puffin towards the headland.  16th March 2019 recorded 717 here (and a further 2175 at nearby Mousehole). A high count of 1072 was made on 17th March 2020.  Clearly more observation is required in the right conditions.

Extreme rarities here include an immature Black-browed Albatross (July 2001), ad White-billed Diver (May), Barolo Shearwater, Red-billed Tropicbird, Trindade Petrel (July 2018), Band-rumped Petrel (Oct 2022) and of course the Fea's Petrels.

ST. IVES ISLAND

St. Ives Island was once the premier UK seawatching site but its star has since fallen. St. Ives specifically requires a strong NW wind, preferably following an overnight strong SW gale. St. Ives' fame is based on a near mythical event on 3rd Sept 1983. The perfect storm of a SW gale followed by a NW howling storm did occur. I was lucky enough to be there.  It was indeed incredible. Several stand-out species made their mark including 10,000+ Storm Petrel, 15 Leach's, 450 Bonxies, 100 plus Sabine's Gulls (all but three were adults), 4 Long-tailed Skua, 245 Arctic Skua, 20 Pomarine, 3 Roseate Terns, 2 Wilson's Petrel, 65 Great Shearwater and  250+ Sooty Shearwater plus well above average numbers of other seabirds. This has never been repeated.

There hasn't been another event like this since 1983 though the site still has two key positive benefits.  The first positive is the incomparable closeness of passing seabirds as they battle against the wind while exiting the Bay. The second is potential for close photography. It has to be stressed though that the sea spray is substantial here and you have to be super careful with your expensive kit.

The negatives here are actually getting to St Ives Island and then parking your car. St Ives' upsurge in popularity means visitors pre book the car park solidly through to October. In the past, there was a sewage outlet below the island. For obvious reasons, this held significant feeding seabirds. "Sadly" the outlets have now been abandoned. Finally, a NW gale is quite rare in itself, perhaps just a couple events a season. The majority of birders now visit Pendeen, even in a North Westerly.

View of St Ives Island, showing the NCI Watchpoint (courtesy St Ives Boat Trips).

THE BIRDS

Several stand-out rarities have occurred here including Wilson's Petrel, Barolo Shearwater, Brown Booby, Bridled Tern (1982), Black-browed Albatross, White-billed Diver (wintered), Laughing Gull (wintered), Forster's Tern (1987). The site is best known for close views of Leach's Petrels, Sabines Gulls, skuas, terns, petrels, vast numbers of auks and Kittiwake in October and November. 

Update: A 4th year Black-browed Albatross was seen from the island on 5th Jan 2023. Pete Nason saw the bird just 100m away. It was later seen from Clodgy Point and then from Gwithian. Photo's show this to be the same individual as seen from Quiberron, France on the 28th Dec 2022. The wind direction at St. Ives was SW...It pays to visit in any weather!

The site is not favoured for Cory's and Great Shearwater though. Pendeen always steals the limelight in this respect. Its now thought that large shears "straight line" from Southern Ireland to Land's End and in stronger westerly wind, "arc" in towards the Channel. Hence most (though not all) large shears are seen further out. Cory's and Great Shearwater are occasionally seen further east in the Bristol Channel, eg off Hartland Point, Devon and Trevose, Cornwall but numbers are far lower than from far west Cornish sites.

THE WIND

Specifically NW and preferably following a SW overnight gale. No other wind direction favours a St Ives seawatch.

The Lizard Point

The Lizard as a seawatching hotspot has only recently caught the eye. The last ten years has seen a solid crop of experienced, newly arrived resident birders, willing to put the hours in. Additionally, University graduates from Penryn need little encouragement to get involved and certainly bring value to the party.

Lizard Point, with the reef exposed at low tide.

Viewed from the west side at high tide.

A steady flow of quality seabirds have been recorded including Band-rumped Petrel and Caspian Tern in 2022. These two species alone confirm the massive potential here.  Only time and analysis of the conditions will reveal more, but for now, the Lizard clearly makes the grade for a Cornish seawatching hotspot.

The positives are: 

The geographical position, being the most southerly point in the UK. 

The geography of the area, especially its proximity to Falmouth Bay as birds funnel past.

Anything "trapped" in Falmouth Bay and exiting the bay has to pass the point.

Viewing distances are similar to Porthgwarra and Pendeen, ie. not especially close but close enough for identifiable views (with a decent spotting scope).

A short walk from the car park to the Point itself.

The negatives are:

Position of the sun mid morning creates glare.

Little protection from the elements, especially in a direct southerly gale.

In the tourist season, the many visitors during the peak of the day can be distracting. Morning and evening are fine but its easy to head east of the lighthouse to Bass Point or west towards Old Lizard Head.

THE BIRDS

Extreme rarities include a Band-rumped Petrel in September 2022, double figure counts of Wilson's Petrel in August 2022, Caspian Tern in July 2022, Ross's Gull in 2016, Black-browed Albatross in 2019, well over 12,000 Great Shearwaters around the peninsular in October 2022 and Barolo Shearwater. Other past rarities include White-billed Diver, Pacific Diver, Fea's Petrel and Barolo Shearwater.  The point also has a good track record for Long-tailed Skua and Balearic Shearwater. Euro Storm Petrel is regular in numbers in the summer.

Quite often, similar count numbers and same species are mirrored at Porthgwarra. When news reaches seawatchers at Porthgwarra, an excited anticipation adds to a great day.

THE WEATHER

Seawatching as ever is very weather dependent, with the most productive winds in peak season occurring when blowing south round to south-west. Wind directions away from south-west to west in effect push birds out to sea and are harder to observe. But with so many other key factors involved, perhaps more important are migration patterns, food availability and where the winds have come from, not just direction.  Essentially, its always worth a look at any time, in any weather.  

The best conditions are often not always associated with windy conditions. Multiple, fast moving rain fronts also produce seabirds. At the Lizard, enjoy what you see from the comfort of the CafĂ© at the point with some shelter and tea / coffee cake and pasties.  The National Trust Wildlife watch point is sighted at Britain’s most southerly point, against a stunning backdrop. The Wildlife Watch point is open April-Oct and is a fantastic place to get closer to nature and see Choughs, thousands of passing seabirds, Atlantic grey seals and other marine species including porpoise, dolphins and basking sharks.

The reef offshore at the Point can be a slight deterrent to true pelagic species. They do pass by, but a bit further offshore, not that dissimilar to Porthgwarra.  Unlike many other main sea watching spots, the Reef is a focal point for gulls, resting terns and waders.  The bay either side of the Reef hosts feeding divers in calm periods.

The Lizard is also good for cetaceans and mega marine fauna including Humpback Whale, Fin Whale, dolphins, Barrel Jellyfish, Bluefin Tuna, Basking Sharks and Leatherback Turtle.

THE WIND

The optimum wind direction differs little from Porthgwarra. Essentially, any direction between S and SW will produce results at the correct time of year. Of interest, immediately after a gale, seabirds can occur in any wind direction, particularly from the SE.

Regarding the optimum time of the year, clearly July to October are the best months. But, Ross's Gull was found in January 2016 and Black-browed Albatross in February 2019.  With the increase in sea temperatures, any month has potential.

Birders assembled in Feb 2019 for the Black-browed Albatross (pic courtesy T. Blunden).

Puffin Migration at the Lizard

Late March into early April is a peak period for Puffin Migration on the South Cornwall Coast. Peaks seem to occur the day or sometimes two days after a south or westerly blow.  This is ideally in quite calm conditions in week in 12/13/14 with 21st March to 9th April an optimal period, with peak count often occurring in the period 30 March - 3 April.

From limited counts, peak numbers during a narrow window of a few days can be 125+ per hour with counts of 600+ recorded per hour passing the Lizard. Other southern headlands such as Mousehole and Porthgwarra have also recorded high numbers. I am sure with more sea-watching at this time of year more detail could be added to their occurrence. This presumably co-insides with peak northbound migration to breeding sites locally and north Atlantic colonies. If suitable westerly wind doesn’t occur in this period, numbers are much reduced as presumably lacking the deflection of the migration by the wind as they head north out in the Atlantic.


There is little to inform you when Puffin are about to arrive in numbers to coastal Cornish waters either. With counts just before and just after peaks often not much more than 10-20ish / hr. Essentially it comes down to luck and perseverance.  Don’t expect them to be that close! Many of the passing Puffin are a mile or so out!

Note: The Lizard article and Puffin article has had input from my friend and resident Lizard birder, Tony Blunden.